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Sustainability Is Not Dead: It Is In Your Hands

In speaking to 3,000 climatologists recently, Governor Jerry Brown said, “California will launch its own damn satellites” to study climate change if the Trump administration pulls back on research on the topic. This dogged determination is shared by many around the country in light of the recent election results and cabinet choices that are decidedly anti-environment.

At 3Degrees, this is not our first rodeo. The day after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, the manager of a small print shop called, looking to buy renewable energy. This customer said, “Well, if the government is not going to do anything, it’s up to the rest of us.” For many people, that sentiment runs even deeper today. The day after the most recent election, our call center experienced a 20% increase in calls from people wanting to buy renewable energy. We couldn’t wait around for federal government leadership to stimulate action in 2004, and we can’t wait now.

For those of us committed to sustainability, these are unsettling times. But here are four reasons why I see hope:

1. Renewable energy is more affordable than ever.

Market forces and government initiatives have driven investment in renewable energy production, and it is paying off. Global electricity produced by solar has doubled seven times and wind power has doubled four times since 2000. Meanwhile, prices for clean energy continue to tumble.

The Department of Energy says that solar-generated electricity is price competitive with traditional energy sources in 14 states.

2. We have traction.

With a decidedly anti-environmental political climate deterring policy action in 2004, several states created policies requiring utilities to purchase a specified level of renewable energy. Just a few years before, early adopters like Kinkos and Johnson & Johnson kick-started the voluntary renewable energy market with some of the earliest purchases of renewable energy certificates (RECs). Massive purchases by the likes of Intel, Kohl’s and Starbucks followed. Since then, other progressive companies have expanded the market in both volume and variety. In fact, Google just announced that by next year it will offset 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. Following the election, 365 notable U.S. companies signed a letter to president-elect Trump recommending that the new administration stick with the Paris Agreement.

They contend that taking action to build a low-carbon economy is imperative for American prosperity.

3. States and cities are taking action.

No one knows what this administration will do about policies that affect climate change. What we do know is that many state and local governments are poised to play a critical role in addressing these issues. For some states, this is nothing new. Before 2004, only 11 states had renewable energy goals in place. During Bush’s second term, 22 additional states plus the District of Columbia passed them. We are now witnessing a number of states strengthening these policies.

Today, states and cities are maintaining the momentum on climate change and clean energy. Illinois, led by a Republican governor, recently passed one of the most comprehensive state clean energy policies. California, having some of the strongest greenhouse gas legislation on the planet, will continue to play a leadership role. In addition, hundreds of cities, including San Francisco, New York, Atlanta and Chicago have established greenhouse gas reductions goals of 80 percent or higher by 2050.

4. We have more tools than ever before.

Regardless of federal, state or local policies, many organizations will push ahead with plans to reduce their carbon footprints. And today, they have more options to achieve their greenhouse gas reduction goals than they did a decade ago.

Ultimately, federal government leadership on climate change is needed in order to affect massive change, and that appears unlikely for the next four years. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that we can accelerate progress on climate change in the U.S. through a groundswell of action by determined people and organizations that refuse to sit idly by.